I was on my way to deliver the car to Mrs. Sherman at her Maryland home. My cell phone rang and Riff was on the line. "Hello, Riff. What's up?"
"Your time is up, that's what. Why are you always late?"
"I'm due at Mrs. Sherman's in one hour, and I'll be there in half that time."
"You shouldn't show up too early, it makes us look bad. Sets a bad standard."
"Whatever you say."
"Damn right whatever I say. I'm the boss." He paused. "Can you get up to Boston to pick up a car headed to Miami?"
"Sure. Is it ready?"
"Ready today, the question is whether you can make it in time."
"I will check the train schedule and let you know." I hung up and concentrated. It was early morning, so if I could catch an Amtrak train within the next hour or so, I should be in Boston before evening time. First I had to drop off to Mrs. Sherman, and I knew from experience that her motto was "I know you are a man of integrity, so I won't insult you by offering a gratuity."
I pulled into her driveway, and the 94 year old lady came out to greet me. "Hello, Bill. I'm so glad they sent you to pick up my car."
"To be honest I am delivering it to you, Mrs. Sherman. I picked it up from your Florida home 2 days ago."
She held her hand up to her forehead and seemed embarrassed and a little lost. "Yes, yes, that's right. Can you please unload my car now?" I would not do it for anyone else, and it is against company policy to touch any customer's personal belongings. But this was sweet old Mrs. Sherman, after all.
When I was done, she handed me an envelope and said it was my tip. "Please open it later." Then she began to absent-mindedly sing YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE as she walked into the house.
I took a cab to the train station, and ten minutes after I arrived the northbound train came along. I called my old high school buddy Justin Alexander up in Boston and asked him if he could pick me up at the train station. Not only was he willing, but he said he'd drive me to Waltham where my pick up car was waiting.
Justin greeted me at the station, and we had fun catching up. Last time I had seen him was at the 2011 New Years Eve surprise party thrown for me by my friend Lisa. "You still manager at your company, or did they promote you?" I asked him.
"No, they let me go."
"Say what? You've been with them for 18 years, how could they just let you go?"
"No seriously, I want to know."
"What? You have to be kidding me."
"I wish I were."
"So what are you doing for money?"
"We're here, this is the address." Justin had stopped the car, and nodded at the gate leading into the parking lot where a car waited to be driven down to Florida. "Looks like they are about to close that gate and shut down for the night. Get your car, then follow me home. We can talk more there."
It was nearly 20 miles back to Justin's house. His sweet wife Mary was waiting for us with a fresh cooked lasagna just out of the oven. She'd also made a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, my favorite. We talked about old times and laughed, and Mary reminded me that she had to warn me to behave myself when I was a groomsman at their wedding. Back then, she was afraid I might come running down the aisle of the church pushing a grocery cart and yelling. I used to do stuff like that, only in movie theater parking lots. Never at a wedding.
After dinner, Justin and I sat alone and talked. He really opened up to me about how hard things had been since his job ended. "The tough part is having no benefits. Mary was sick for a month, and she wouldn't go to the doctor because our budget was too tight and we don't have health or medical. We owe so much for the kids' college educations, and we're just... I don't know. I'm trying to keep my head above water. I don't think the man we have in the White House is helping matters much."
"Still, I have a good family who loves me. And friends like you who make me laugh."
"Yes you, you silly son of a bitch. But when I'm alone, out there going for interviews, it gets me down sometimes. You know, hard to keep my spirits up."
We talked on into the night, and finally he said he had to get to bed. Since I planned to get up and be off very early, I needed the sleep also. I was looking through my paperwork and I found the envelope Mrs. Sherman had given me. I opened it and found two one hundred dollar bills inside. Wow, good timing. I had been short of funds and could really use the money.
The next day, as I was driving through Connecticut, Riff called my cell phone. "What is it, Riff?"
"I got a call from Mrs. Sherman's daughter today. She said that she thinks her mother may have given you an envelope with money in it that was meant for the landscaper. You know anything about that?"
"No, not a thing."
"I thought maybe she gave you a tip. She's a rich old broad, she can sure afford it."
"Yes, but she never does. Tip me, I mean."
"Call me when you get to Miami." And then he was gone.
About that time, I imagined Justin was in his kitchen and found the envelope from me with the note that said I AM YOUR FRIEND FOREVER AND I BELIEVE IN YOU. HOPE THIS HELPS. The $200 was wrapped in the note.